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Playing, Gambling and Cheating in Early Modern England and France

Gambling with Women, Estates and Status in Long Eighteenth Century-Comedy

Jouer avec les femmes: Propriété et statut dans la comédie du long XVIIIe siècle
Beth Cortese

Résumés

Cet article traite des jeux de hasard et de l'héritage comme deux types de transfert de propriété dans la comédie du long XVIIIe siècle et examine la relation qu’ils entretiennent avec le sexe et le statut social. En comparant The Lucky Chance d’Aphra Behn (1685) avec The Basset Table de Susanna Centlivre (1705), on montre les différentes attitudes manifestées à l’égard du jeu par les hommes et les femmes aristocratiques et les joueuses de la classe moyenne. L’article montre que le jeu offrait aux individus, et en particulier aux femmes mariées, un rapport différent à la propriété, leur permettant de participer à l'économie du crédit, en manipulant leur position en tant que propriété de leur mari selon le statut juridique de la « coverture » pour transférer leur dette à leur mari comme forme alternative d'héritage.

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Notes de l’auteur

This research was funded by the Independent Research Fund Denmark as part of the collaborative research project “Unearned Wealth: A Literary History of Inheritance, 1600-2015”.

Texte intégral

  • 1 Gina Bloom, Gaming the Stage: Playable Media and the rise of the English Commercial Theatre, Ann Ar (...)
  • 2 Adam Zucker, “The Social Stakes of Gambling in Early Modern London”, in Masculinity and the Metropo (...)

1Inheritance and gambling were two of the main modes of transferring property and seemingly transforming status on the comic stage. Women at the gaming table were able to participate in the transmission of property due to gambling’s relaxed attitude to men and women from varied social ranks playing together. The freedom allocated to women to stake, gain or lose financial property at the gaming table is in stark contrast to the laws that restricted women’s autonomous bestowal of property through inheritance. As Gina Bloom observes, “[e]arly modern dramas use gaming to investigate codes of social intimacy […] they call attention to friendship, courtship and marriage as games of risk.”1 Inheritance and property transference were bound up with marriage, as the Strict Settlement which entailed the estate upon a future heir was often settled upon the current heir’s marriage. Through transforming the fixed property of estates into moveable property that can be staked at the gaming table, it can be argued that gambling trusts to chance (and sometimes skill) in order to provide an alternative means of wealth gain to the potentially unfair and conservative practice of wealth distribution via inheritance. In the comedy The Basset Table (1705), Susanna Centlivre thus provides the opportunity for female characters and other lower status characters to go against the status quo within the play-space of the gaming table. Gambling in such comedies therefore represents not only a homosocial model of property transmission between men from different social spheres, which mirrors inheritance practice as Zucker argues,2 but also the potential for married women to work within and to capitalise on their position as objects under coverture. For a woman may not always be able to pass on her property without her husband’s consent, but she can pass on debt to her husband during her lifetime in a negative form of inheritance. Property transmission through inheritance and gambling in comedy gets to the heart of debates about men’s and women’s complex and shifting relationship to property and social status, exposing the way in which financial risk provided the opportunity for social elevation and new ways to transmit property. As this essay will show, Aphra Behn’s The Lucky Chance (1685) and Susanna Centlivre’s The Basset Table (1705) dramatise the way in which gambling could elevate or reinstate a person’s status. Each play explores the relationship between gambling and property transference and its effect on individuals from different perspectives. The Lucky Chance thus exposes the dark side of coverture’s positioning of women as commodities, as Sir Cautious trades his wife at the gaming table, and in doing so, reinstates Gayman’s aristocratic status. Meanwhile, The Basset Table provides an example of a middle-class wife’s engagement in gambling to elevate her social status and her capitalisation on her position under coverture to transfer her debts into her husband’s name. These two plays thus depict the transformative and problematic effects of property transference at the gaming table.

  • 3 Charles Cotton, “Epistle to the Reader”, in The Compleat Gamester second edition, London, Henry Bro (...)
  • 4 Samuel Johnson quoted in James Boswell, Life of Johnson, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1980, p. (...)
  • 5 See Jessica Richards, The Romance of Female Gambling, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, p. 29.

2Gambling prompted new explorations of individuals’ relationships to their own property because it was not only money that could be wagered, but also valuable objects and even one’s estate, as Charles Cotton’s The Compleat Gamester (1676) comments.3 The State lotteries gave all individuals a chance to take a risk in the hope of gaining wealth. There are surprising similarities between the portrayal of gambling and inheritance in comedy, such as the way in which each energises the plot, altering a character’s circumstances. Both gambling and inheritance, unlike trade, involve the transference of property “without producing any intermediate good.”4 They served private rather than public interests and were often viewed as a greedy form of accumulation of wealth. Both involve an expectation of wealth gain that influences the gambler’s and the heir apparent’s reckless attitude toward spending. As Jessica Richards notes, the credit economy and the practice of gambling “looked forward to possible profits rather than backward at past losses.”5 The gambler and the heir apparent believe that they will soon have the capital to replace and exceed the money they have spent.

  • 6 Eileen Spring, Law, Land and Family: Aristocratic Inheritance in England, 1300 to 1800, Chapel Hill (...)
  • 7 William Congreve, Love for Love, London, Jacob Tonson, 1695, II.i, p.26-27.
  • 8 J. Richards, op. cit., p. 23-24.
  • 9 The Friendly Monitor laying open the Crying Sins of Cursing, Swearing, Drinking, Gaming, Detraction (...)
  • 10 Joseph Harris, The City Bride; or, The Merry Cuckold, London, A. Roper and E. Wilkinson, 1696, II.i (...)
  • 11 Katie Barclay, “Natural Affection, the Patriarchal Family and the Strict Settlement Debate: A Respo (...)

3But there are of course differences between the two and in some ways gambling is the darker cousin of inheritance. Inheritance encourages the accumulation and maintenance of property and wealth within the family. Eileen Spring has described the Strict Settlement which governed how land was distributed in families as “primogenitive”, “patriarchal” and designed to “preserve [family] estates.”6 In Congreve’s comedy Love for Love, the young and spendthrift heir Valentine believes his father owes him a “right of inheritance” and should provide for him as part of his natural duty as a parent.7 Gambling, on the other hand, is an individual venture, based on the premise of investing money through risk in order to attain more but with no desire necessarily to share this wealth with one’s family. While inheritance is based on tradition and one’s birth, the gambler relies on the alignment of skill with chance, and through their negotiation of risk ‘earns’ their wealth. Jessica Richards shows how the practice of gambling in the State Lottery was central to the new economy and included the aspirational individual who desired to elevate or increase their status.8 However, in each case, the transmission of property through these forms is portrayed as having the potential to contaminate familial bonds and one’s character. At the gaming table, contamination of affections is caused by risk, an “inheritance of Confusion and Misery [which is passed on] to many Generations”, and in the inheritance plot through inequality as within a family of several children one was either chosen to inherit through a will or destined to inherit due to their position as the eldest son.9 As Summerfield, the younger brother, puts it in Joseph Harris’s comedy, The City Bride; or, The Merry Cuckold (1696): “a Younger Brother! It is a poor Title, and very hard to bear with: The Elder Fool inherits all the Land, whilst we are forced to follow Legacies of Wit, and get them when we can.”10 Katie Barclay has argued that the changes made to the Strict Settlement Acts in the seventeenth century supported displaying “natural affection” towards children, and dealt with the problem of inequality in the inheritance system by providing portions to younger siblings, a point of contention within inheritance practice.11 As will be apparent, inheritance and gambling are placed in dialogue with one another onstage to explore notions of status, entrepreneurship, gender roles and rightful ownership.

  • 12 A. Zucker, “The Social Stakes of Gambling”, op. cit., p. 81.
  • 13 Michelle Dowd, “Risky Business: Con Artists, Speculation, and Inheritance in Early Modern Drama”, d (...)
  • 14 Aphra Behn, The Lucky Chance, ed. Maureen Duffy, coll. Methuen Drama, London, Methuen, repr. 1992, (...)

4Aphra Behn’s comedy The Lucky Chance, in which Lady Fulbank’s husband Sir Cautious sets her as the stake and forfeits both his wife and estate to her lover Gayman at the gaming table, exposes what Adam Zucker has commented on, that the “comic world dominated by a Gamester is one in which the transfer of wealth between men through the networks of marriage and familial inheritance […] is mirrored by the homosocial comic relations of the gaming table.”12 Gambling represented a possibility of social mobility for those not born into an inheritance along with reclamation of funds and status for those who had wasted away their estate. Michelle Dowd has acknowledged that on the early modern stage “inheritance gets linked to confidence schemes and other risky behaviours.”13 Indeed, Sir Cautious agrees that his estate, wife, and wealth will pass to Gayman on his death, “ I bequeath my Lady to you — With the whole part of my Estate.”14 In this context, Lady Fulbank becomes part of the estate that was traditionally settled on the next heir upon marriage. Lady Fulbank is transferred as a sexual commodity rather than as a wife. Behn’s portrayal of the woman traded at the gaming table alludes not only to how women were traded as objects during marriage settlements, with wealthy heiresses viewed as prizes to be obtained, but also how even after marriage, the law of coverture made a wife her husband’s sole property. The way in which Lady Fulbank is traded as property without her consent presents a stark picture of the married woman’s loss of control as an independent subject.

5The kind of property at stake for men and women at the gaming table along with whether the gambler is rewarded or condemned for the risks they take in these comedies therefore varied according to their gender and their relation to property. The Lucky Chance is a good example of this because Behn uses the gambling scene to experiment with the notion of wives as commodities to be traded and satirizes the view of the married woman as property through the gambling and bedtrick scenes. In the following scene, Sir Cautious negotiates the wager that positions his wife as the stake:

  • 15 A. Behn, ibid., IV.i, p. 75-77.

Sir Cautious: Sir, I wish I had any thing but ready Money to stake: three hundred Pound—a fine sum!
Gayman: You have Moveables, Sir, Goods—Commodities—
Sir Cautious: That’s all one, Sir; that’s Money’s worth, Sir: but if I had any thing that were worth nothing—
Gayman: You would venture it, I thank you, Sir, I wou’d your Lady were worth nothing—
Sir Cautious: Why, so, Sir?
Gayman: Then I wou’d set all this against that Nothing.
Sir Cautious: What, set it against my Wife?
Gayman: Wife, Sir! Ay, your Wife—
Sir Cautious: Hum, my Wife against three hundred Pounds! What, all my Wife, Sir?
Gayman: All your Wife! Why, Sir, some part of her wou’d serve my turn. […] What say you to a Night? I’ll set it to a Night—there’s none need know it, Sir. […]
Sir Cautious: A Night—I shall have her safe and sound I’th’Morning.
Sir Feeble: Safe, no doubt on’t—but how sound.15

  • 16 Russell West Pavlov, Temporalities, London, Routledge, 2013, p. 128.

6Lady Fulbank becomes the “small parcel of ware” worth “nothing” that is traded between the men as Behn puns on women’s sexual organs as “nothing.” In this way, gaming transfers Lady Fulbank from fixed or real property due to her status as a wife to moveable property in lieu of ready money, associated with easy transference from one owner to another. The scene in which Lady Fulbank’s body is transferred is an unsettling depiction of how women were viewed as sexual commodities whose fates were in the hands of their husbands. While inheritance practice had strict rules governing moveable and real property, gambling overturns these rules as any form of property can be staked. Russel West Pavlov defines commodities as products that have been lifted out of their context of immediate use-value and float free on the ebb of market forces.16 In the play-space of the gaming table, Lady Fulbank becomes a commodity whose future is subject to chance — to the outcome of the dice, determining the winner.

  • 17 M. Dowd, “Risky Business”, p. 13.
  • 18 A. Behn, The Lucky Chance, op. cit., I.i. p. 15.

7Gayman, on the other hand, benefits from his risk and is rewarded with the promise of money and property from Sir Cautious for his skill at the gaming table. As Michelle Dowd has argued, gambling was sometimes portrayed as a productive means of gaining wealth and social connections as in John Cooke’s Greene’s Tu Quoque (1611).17 As “a young spark” who hopes to inherit when his uncle dies, Gayman is in need of ready money or the income from an estate to fund his lifestyle.18 Heirs in drama and fiction often turn to the gaming table to win back their estate, or to showcase their aristocratic status. As the banker Sir Cautious has no children, he names Gayman as his heir as a reward for the skill Gayman displayed at the gaming table. Sir Cautious has recognised a man who is good at handling risk, unlike himself. In Greene’s Tu Quoque, as Dowd has argued, the heir’s gambling is part of their education about participating in the credit economy and managing risk when investing. In Gayman’s case, he wishes to usurp Sir Cautious’ place as Julia’s husband and maintain his fashionable reputation, and the only way he can do this is by entering into a credit / debt relation with Sir Cautious.

  • 19 Ibid.
  • 20 A. Behn, ibid., IV.i p. 74.
  • 21 Thomas Kavanagh, Enlightenment and the Shadows of Chance: The Novel and the Culture of Gambling in (...)
  • 22 Kirk Combe, “Rakes, Wives and Merchants: Shifts from the Satirical to Sentimental”, in A Companion (...)
  • 23 A. Behn, The Lucky Chance, op. cit., IV.i, p. 75.
  • 24 Richard Steele quoted in A. Chalmers, The British Essayists; With Prefaces Historial and Biographic (...)
  • 25 See J. Richards, op. cit.; Donna T. Andrew, Aristocratic Vice: The Attack on Duelling, Suicide, Adu (...)

8Gambling in The Lucky Chance thus showcases the competition between the businessmen who make their money in the city, such as Sir Cautious, and Gayman whose uncle in the country has promised him an estate worth “two thousand a year” (ibid.).19 Sir Cautious is in direct opposition to the spendthrift Gayman as he is reluctant to spend money. The Alderman Sir Feeble shows no discomfort in response to losing one hundred pounds at the gaming table, perhaps because he himself as an Alderman would have been in possession of a large amount of property, while Sir Cautious cannot cope with the loss and becomes determined to regain the sum, as a measure of his social status and influence.20 Comedies on the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century stage depict the landed classes, mercantile classes, and lower-status classes vying for prominence at the gaming table. Increasing competition from individuals of lower status who display skill at the gaming table, leads to aristocratic characters using the gaming table as a way to restore their status. Thomas Kavanagh in Enlightenment and the Shadows of Chance explains that risking it all was a social performance that reinstated a nobleman’s status as aristocratic as only one of true status would risk it.21 As Kirk Combe has noted, during the long eighteenth century, “England moved from an aristocratic, land-based political economy to a mercantile, capitalistic one”, which meant that the demand for ready money became even more important, and for young heirs or low-status characters gambling was a means through which individuals could increase their fortunes.22 Gayman, displaying the recklessness of the aristocracy, is more successful at the gaming table because he is willing to risk the little money he has left, while Sir Cautious, as his name suggests, will only stake something he believes to be “worth nothing.”23 Gayman’s status is elevated two-fold at the end of the play when he receives an inheritance from his uncle and the promise of an inheritance from Sir Cautious. Behn, therefore, reinstates Gayman’s financial status and in doing so, presents the prodigal aristocrat as better equipped to handle the risk involved in financial venture. The negative outcomes for female characters who gamble (as opposed to male characters) are to do with the fact that women were trading from their position as sexual commodity, while men were already financial subjects. So, while Gayman receives an estate after gambling, characters such as Lady Reveller, who gambles in Centlivre’s play The Basset Table and also accepts money from Sir James in order to gamble, must repay him through sex. Texts about gambling in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries point out this difference, as does Richard Steele: “The Man that plays beyond his Income pawns his Estate; the Woman must find out something else to Mortgage when her Pin-mony [sic] is gone.”24 While Gayman can regain his reputation as a wealthy gentleman through buying expensive clothes and is offered two estates at the end of the play, a maidenhead once lost cannot be regained nor can a woman’s social reputation. As Jessica Richards, Donna T. Andrew and Beth Kowalcze Wallace acknowledge, female gambling leads to ugliness, suicide, adultery, loss of chastity (or the threat of it) and was stigmatized more than male gambling.25

  • 26 Gillian Russell, “‘Faro's Daughters’: Female Gamesters, Politics, and the Discourse of Finance in 1 (...)
  • 27 Alexandra Shepard, “Minding their own Business: Married Women and Credit in Early Eighteenth-Centur (...)
  • 28 Margot Finn, “Women, consumption and coverture in England c. 1760-1860”, The Historical Journal, 39 (...)
  • 29 M. Finn, ibid., “Abstract”, p. 703. See also J. Richards, op. cit., p. 111.
  • 30 Susanna Centlivre, The Basset Table (1705), ed. Paddy Lyons and Fidelis Morgan, London, J. M. Dent, (...)
  • 31 Ibid., Act V, p. 287-288.
  • 32 ‘Substance’ noun, entry 12a in Oxford English Dictionary online [https://www-oed-com.ez.statsbiblio (...)
  • 33 M. Finn, “Women, consumption and coverture”, art. cit., p. 709.

9The vilification of the female gambler and the connection between women’s gaming practices and sexual vice, with the view of her as sexual commodity to be traded, have been well-documented. However, Gillian Russell importantly adds a new facet to depictions of the female gambler in her discussion of how aristocratic ladies possessing independent wealth, such as the Faro ladies who set up private gaming houses in the 1790s, posed a threat to society because they governed themselves and did not fulfil traditional female roles.26 On the comic stage of the early eighteenth century, the unfettered female gambler is not confined to high-status women: Mrs Sago, a citizen’s wife in Susanna Centlivre’s The Basset Table, enjoys the freedom to gamble because all her debts are transferred to her husband under the law of coverture. I argue that the married, middle-class female gambler was also a figure of anxiety on the long eighteenth-century stage because of the way she subverted her position as property, could damage her husband’s credit and represented the bourgeois classes’ pretence to social elevation. Through gambling, the middle-class wife could gain money, mix in higher social circles, and also lose her husband’s money. Historians such as Alexandra Shepard have drawn attention to the way in which women “sidestepped the legal conventions of coverture” and how they played an integral role in forming credit relationships, manipulating their positions as wives under coverture to avoid financial responsibility and to raise their social status through the display of gambling.27 As Margot Finn argues, married women “enjoyed substantially more economic authority” in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries than “the literature on coverture would suggest.”28 From the fifteenth century onwards, the Law of Necessaries allowed women to “pledge their husbands’ credit to purchase a wide range of ‘necessary’ goods, thus running up a bill in their husband’s name”, meaning that a married woman’s debts were actually their husband’s debts under the law of coverture.29 Mrs. Sago is depicted as a prolific consumer of high-value goods, such as tea, silks, and jewellery, which her husband is unable to refuse her.30 Her orders of luxury goods billed to her husband’s account have an impact on the household finances. She wheedles her husband for money to finance her high-stake card game of Basset, played with ladies and gentlemen. Mrs. Sago then transfers her gambling debt onto her husband, thus capitalising on her position as property under the law of coverture. When her debts are revealed to her husband, he states that she has “devoured [his] substance” and questions why he should “forgive her that would send [him] to gaol?”31 The Oxford English Dictionary lists an archaic meaning of “substance” as referring to material possessions and wealth from the fourteenth century which continued in the eighteenth century, and in this context her husband refers to his wealth which defines his position in society as a male subject.32 As property, Mrs. Sago has no influence until she passes on debt. Margo Finn refers to the Law of Necessaries as part of the “Janus-face of coverture, which at once stripped women of all economic agency and bestowed vicarious consumer rights upon them.”33 In this way, women’s passing on of debt functions as an alternative form of property transfer, which, in the image of women’s legal position, is negative. It could be argued that married women take revenge on their husbands and on the legal system’s positioning of them as property by capitalizing on this ability to transfer debt.

  • 34 S. Centlivre, op. cit., Act II, p. 251.
  • 35 Ibid., Act IV, p. 279 and Act V, p. 292.
  • 36 Ibid., Act I, p. 241.
  • 37 Ibid., Act I, p. 238, Act V, p. 290.
  • 38 James E. Evans, ‘“A Sceane of Uttmost Vanity”: The Spectacle of Gambling in Late Stuart Culture’, S (...)
  • 39 S. Centlivre, op. cit., IV.ii. p. 280-281. See J. E. Evans, art. cit., p. 2-3.

10The married bourgeois woman who gambles becomes a threat who needs to be socialised back into her rightful place in Centlivre’s The Basset Table. Mrs. Sago is motivated by a desire to fit in with the aristocratic women who possess inherited titles and wealth. This is made possible for her because “if there is but money enough, [the aristocratic company] stand not upon birth or reputation, in either sex.”34 Money therefore acts as a social leveller at the gaming table. However, Mrs. Sago the social climber is ultimately punished for using expenditure and gambling as a means to attain the illusion of gentility: she must “[r]emain contented with [her] present state” because “jewels do not become a citizen’s wife.”35 The Law of Necessaries which governed married women’s access to their husband’s credit, stated that women were entitled to this in order to maintain a lifestyle suitable to their husband’s rank and fortune. Mrs. Sago is reminded of her social station and threatened with separation from her husband. The aristocratic Lady Reveller, who is “a widow answerable to none” poses a dangerous threat to her Uncle’s household and reputation due to her independence. However, unlike Mrs. Sago who can rely on her husband’s credit-worthiness to have Sir James pay the debt she accumulated in her husband’s name, Lady Reveller has no such recourse and must forfeit her body — as a widow, her virginity is not at stake, but rather her sexual reputation: “when money’s wanting will her virtue stake.”36 In the end, both the aristocratic and middle-class female gamblers are punished and socialised into their rightful position because of the threat they posed by trying to elevate themselves and participate in the public sphere. Lady Reveller as a wealthy widow is punished for not marrying and not passing on her wealth to a husband, and for not fulfilling the social role expected of her which was to create legacy by having children: she is told to “[g]ive over, […] and marry, marry niece” and is “tricked into marriage” at the end of the play.37 James E. Evans has thus acknowledged that the comic stage often exposed the false connection between gambling and status.38 Mrs. Sago’s inability to deal with risk, to handle the consequences of losing at play, which results in her “stamping” her foot, tearing the cards and crying, sets her below those belonging to the high-ranking polite society she wishes to emulate, as she fails to succeed in the social performance of gambling which for members of the gentry and those at Court often served to display security of one’s status.39 Centlivre’s and Behn’s plays show how gambling onstage often reinstated the status quo of the aristocratic classes, mocking the middle-classes’ desire to elevate themselves, as the women who benefit the most at the gaming table, however, are those aristocratic ladies who profit from Mrs. Sago’s desire to gamble and her incompetence at play. These women of status have enough money to lose and their high-social status and financial independence secures them.

  • 40 Anon., The Friendly Monitor laying open the Crying Sins of Cursing, Swearing, Drinking, Gaming, Det (...)

11Writings about gambling and inheritance in the early modern period and long eighteenth-century express anxiety about what happens when property transfer is not clearly regulated, and how not only money or status is transferred but how the receiver of the property can be contaminated depending on how the property was transferred. The credit economy, which enabled greater social mobility and circulation of property, was part of this anxiety. The exchange of property — whether it be money, inheritance, or a person — is never simple and often leads to a transfer of affections: Lady Fulbank separates from her husband’s bed, Lady Reveller replaces her pleasure for gaming with serving Lord Worthy as a wife, and Mrs. Sago is nearly turned out of doors by her husband. While an ancestral inheritance offers the perspective of a noble reputation and future prosperity focused on reproduction and future investment, gambling is characterised by wasteful expenditure and transmits sin and debt. Contemporary texts about gambling, such as the anonymous The Friendly Monitor Laying Open the Crying Sins of Cursing, Swearing, Drinking, Gaming (1676), reveal this anxiety about transmission, fearing that “servants, who too often take after their Master, […] can’t tell why they should be more mindful of his business, than he is of his own” and will fall to gambling like their masters. The Friendly Monitor warns that gambling “leav[es] children without due Education or Fortune answerable to their Quality, entail[ing] on them a certain inheritance of Confusion and Misery [ which is passed on] to many Generations” as though the sins of gaming will be transferred to the next generation, along with the idea that gaming itself is a contaminated sport which leads to and encourages other ill behaviours such as “adultery” and “swearing.”40

  • 41 S. Centlivre, op. cit., Act I, p. 238.

12While Aphra Behn’s The Lucky Chance (1685) and Thomas Southerne’s The Wives’ Excuse (1691) explore gambling in the context of a husband’s ability to cheat his wife and trade her as property, Centlivre takes the temptation of social mobility dreamed of by lower-status characters who gamble, as in John Dryden’s An Evening’s Love (1668), and shows the independence as well as the problems gambling presents for single and widowed women in The Basset Table (1705) and The Gamester (1705). However, Centlivre’s exploration of the tension of married woman as both property and situations in which she can capitalise on this position through the character of Mrs. Sago is a striking portrayal of gambling as a means of attaining wealth and passing on property alternative to inheritance. The crisis of transmission generated from the way in which gambling transforms real or fixed property into moveable property is gendered, with the concerns that men gambling away their estates would leave nothing for their offspring, and that women would neglect their maternal duties. Lady Reveller’s gaming house, which is actually her uncle’s private home, symbolizes this anxiety as the domestic house becomes a public place of wasteful and contaminating leisure instead of a tranquil one of domestic productivity. Centlivre depicts gambling as an obstacle to family life as Lady Reveller’s uncle complains the play at all hours “incommode[s] [his] health.”41 He also complains about how the blame for the consequences of Lady Reveller’s gaming house is transferred to him, and his family name as the only male patriarch:

  • 42 Ibid, Act I, p. 240.

My house shall no longer bear the scandalous name of Basset-Table; husbands shall no more have cause to date their ruin from my door, nor cry, ‘There, there my wife gamed my estate away.’ Nor children curse my posterity for their parents knowing my house.”42

13However, the play also showcases the way in which the home can be transformed into a place in which women participate in public exchange and circulation of wealth as a subversive alternative to domestic reproduction.

  • 43 J. Richards, op. cit., p. 114.

14As registered in the comedies of the period, female gamblers were thus a frightening prospect, and although they lost some rights under coverture, it could be argued that they gained rights as consumers. These comedies draw on the ambiguous nature of women as property but also on their ability to function in a liminal space where they could spend money (that is not theirs necessarily) but, to a certain extent, not bear the consequences of debt. As Jessica Richards argues, “[g]ambling offers the married woman possibilities that are not fully available to her in the credit economy.”43 The opportunities available to the female gambler were to take risks under another person’s name and to openly participate in transactions that were both economic and social — one could flirt as well as win money and mix with a range of classes depending on where the game was played. This enabled the female gambler to become an active participant in the circulation of wealth through a leisure activity — an alternative to the process of transmission through inheritance in which her role was more limited. Entering into debt relation as a married woman eventually meant that these women could be active participants in social transactions without the ultimate financial risk.

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Notes

1 Gina Bloom, Gaming the Stage: Playable Media and the rise of the English Commercial Theatre, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 2018, p. 15.

2 Adam Zucker, “The Social Stakes of Gambling in Early Modern London”, in Masculinity and the Metropolis of Vice, 1550–1650, ed. Amanda Bailey and Roze Hentschell, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010, p. 67-86, here p. 81.

3 Charles Cotton, “Epistle to the Reader”, in The Compleat Gamester second edition, London, Henry Brome, 1676, A8v.

4 Samuel Johnson quoted in James Boswell, Life of Johnson, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1980, p. 481.

5 See Jessica Richards, The Romance of Female Gambling, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, p. 29.

6 Eileen Spring, Law, Land and Family: Aristocratic Inheritance in England, 1300 to 1800, Chapel Hill and London, University of North Carolina Press, 1993, p. 144-145.

7 William Congreve, Love for Love, London, Jacob Tonson, 1695, II.i, p.26-27.

8 J. Richards, op. cit., p. 23-24.

9 The Friendly Monitor laying open the Crying Sins of Cursing, Swearing, Drinking, Gaming, Detraction, and Luxury or Immodesty, London, Sam Crouch, 1692, p. 36.

10 Joseph Harris, The City Bride; or, The Merry Cuckold, London, A. Roper and E. Wilkinson, 1696, II.i, p. 9.

11 Katie Barclay, “Natural Affection, the Patriarchal Family and the Strict Settlement Debate: A Response from the History of Emotions”, The Eighteenth Century, 58. 3, 2017, p. 309-320, here 311.

12 A. Zucker, “The Social Stakes of Gambling”, op. cit., p. 81.

13 Michelle Dowd, “Risky Business: Con Artists, Speculation, and Inheritance in Early Modern Drama”, delivered at the Passing on: Property, Family and Death in Narratives of Inheritance Conference, 14 November 2019, Aarhus University.

14 Aphra Behn, The Lucky Chance, ed. Maureen Duffy, coll. Methuen Drama, London, Methuen, repr. 1992, V.viii, p. 97.

15 A. Behn, ibid., IV.i, p. 75-77.

16 Russell West Pavlov, Temporalities, London, Routledge, 2013, p. 128.

17 M. Dowd, “Risky Business”, p. 13.

18 A. Behn, The Lucky Chance, op. cit., I.i. p. 15.

19 Ibid.

20 A. Behn, ibid., IV.i p. 74.

21 Thomas Kavanagh, Enlightenment and the Shadows of Chance: The Novel and the Culture of Gambling in Eighteenth-Century France, Baltimore, John Hopkins University Press, 1993, p. 50.

22 Kirk Combe, “Rakes, Wives and Merchants: Shifts from the Satirical to Sentimental”, in A Companion to Restoration Drama, ed. Susan Owen, coll. Oxford, Blackwell, 2001, p. 291-308, here p. 295.

23 A. Behn, The Lucky Chance, op. cit., IV.i, p. 75.

24 Richard Steele quoted in A. Chalmers, The British Essayists; With Prefaces Historial and Biographical Volume 14, London, Nichols et. al., 1817, p. 330-331.

25 See J. Richards, op. cit.; Donna T. Andrew, Aristocratic Vice: The Attack on Duelling, Suicide, Adultery, and Gambling in Eighteenth Century England, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 2013, p. 176, p. 200-202, and Beth Kowalcze-Wallace, “A Modest Defense of Gaming Women”, Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture, 31, 2002, p. 21-39.

26 Gillian Russell, “‘Faro's Daughters’: Female Gamesters, Politics, and the Discourse of Finance in 1790s Britain”, Eighteenth-Century Studies, 33. 4, 2000, p. 481-504.

27 Alexandra Shepard, “Minding their own Business: Married Women and Credit in Early Eighteenth-Century London”, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 25, 2015, p. 53-74, here p. 53.

28 Margot Finn, “Women, consumption and coverture in England c. 1760-1860”, The Historical Journal, 39.3, 1996, p. 703-722, here p. 706.

29 M. Finn, ibid., “Abstract”, p. 703. See also J. Richards, op. cit., p. 111.

30 Susanna Centlivre, The Basset Table (1705), ed. Paddy Lyons and Fidelis Morgan, London, J. M. Dent, 1994, p. 235-292, here Act II, p. 257.

31 Ibid., Act V, p. 287-288.

32 ‘Substance’ noun, entry 12a in Oxford English Dictionary online [https://www-oed-com.ez.statsbiblioteket.dk:12048/view/Entry/193042?redirectedFrom=substance#eid] (accessed 14 July 2020).

33 M. Finn, “Women, consumption and coverture”, art. cit., p. 709.

34 S. Centlivre, op. cit., Act II, p. 251.

35 Ibid., Act IV, p. 279 and Act V, p. 292.

36 Ibid., Act I, p. 241.

37 Ibid., Act I, p. 238, Act V, p. 290.

38 James E. Evans, ‘“A Sceane of Uttmost Vanity”: The Spectacle of Gambling in Late Stuart Culture’, Studies in Eighteenth Century Culture, 31, 2002, p. 1-20, here p. 9.

39 S. Centlivre, op. cit., IV.ii. p. 280-281. See J. E. Evans, art. cit., p. 2-3.

40 Anon., The Friendly Monitor laying open the Crying Sins of Cursing, Swearing, Drinking, Gaming, Detraction, and Luxury or Immodesty, London, Sam Crouch, 1692, p. 36; John Philpot, A Prospective Glass to Gamesters; or, A Short Treatise Against Gaming, London. Thomas Bates, 1646, p. 41 and p. 5-7.

41 S. Centlivre, op. cit., Act I, p. 238.

42 Ibid, Act I, p. 240.

43 J. Richards, op. cit., p. 114.

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Beth Cortese, « Gambling with Women, Estates and Status in Long Eighteenth Century-Comedy »Études Épistémè [En ligne], 39 | 2021, mis en ligne le 15 mai 2021, consulté le 18 septembre 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/episteme/9834 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/episteme.9834

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Auteur

Beth Cortese

Aarhus University

Beth Cortese is a Post-doctoral Research Fellow in the department of Comparative Literature at Aarhus University where she researches inheritance in long eighteenth-century drama and fiction as part of the Unearned Wealth: A Literary History of Inheritance project funded by the Independent Research Fund Denmark. Her article “From Love of Money to Love for Love: Heiresses on the Long Eighteenth-Century Stage” was recently published in Restoration and Eighteenth Century Theatre Research and she has contributed to the following collection Castration, Impotence, and Emasculation in the Long Eighteenth Century (London: Routledge, 2019). Beth is currently preparing the manuscript for a monograph on “Women’s Wit on stage, 1660-1720.”

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